Real Antiracism Would Mean Not Canceling Scott Adams | Opinion

Last week, several prominent newspapers announced they were dropping the Dilbert comic, a 30-year-old world-famous satirical comic strip about office life. The cancelation happened after a YouTube video clip of the cartoon's creator—Scott Adams, a vocal critic of "wokeness"—went viral on Twitter. In it, Adams discussed a Rasmussen recent poll about the extent to which a cohort of 1,000 Americans agreed with the statement "It's okay to be white." When it came to Black respondents, 26 percent voiced some level of disagreement to the statement, while 53 percent agreed. 21 percent weren't sure.

After reading out the results of the poll to his audience, Adams had some advice for white people. Here's what he said: "If nearly half of all Blacks are not okay with white people, according to this poll, not according to me... that's a hate group... and I don't want to have anything to do with 'em and I would say, based on the current way things are going, the best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from Black people. Just get the fuck away. Wherever you have to go, just get away. This can't be fixed."

As a result of this commentary, the papers dropped Adams' comic strip.

Let me be clear: Adams was wrong to issue a public call to re-segregate America and to stop helping Black citizens. As many have pointed out—including many conservative critics of cancel culture—his commentary meets the definition of racism.

What no one seems to have noted is that both Adams and the Rasmussen pollsters underestimated the complexity of the question itself and thus the findings.

The poll asked if respondents agree or disagree with the statement that "it's okay to be white." Obviously, how someone answers the question depends on how they understand the expression, and how a respondent understands what it means to be "white." And the truth is that for many Americans—Black and white included—the statement didn't just have racial connotations but also political ones.

Think of how "White Lives Matter" took the response to Black Lives Matter one step further than saying All Lives Matter, transforming a banality into something easily appropriated as a white power slogan. Many understand "It's ok to be white" in a similar way, not as a statement about skin color but as a political identity that connotes "purity" and confers a greater deservedness to people of European descent.

Everyone should agree that that's not OK. And when you consider its colloquial meaning, "It's ok to be white" can mean "It's not ok to be Black," which means that disputing it isn't a sign of racial supremacy but rather a vote in favor of equality.

As someone steeped in Black communities of all different stripes, it seems clear that those disagreeing with the statement "It's ok to be white" were disagreeing with the supremacist version of the statement, rather than saying it's not ok for people of European descent to exist.

In fact, that's the very reason Rasmussen was gauging public sentiment about the statement. The poll was prompted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) labeling the statement "It's ok to be white" as hate speech. The ADL picked up on the fact that it has been used as an alt-right campaign in 2017, which started on the avowedly racist social networking site 4Chan and advised college students to plaster "It's okay to be white" across their campuses to protest diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts.

Given this history and given that 4Chan has inspired mass murderers, it makes a lot more sense why a quarter of Black Americans might have some hesitation in signing off on the sentiment. In public and private conversations about race, Americans of all races must be thoughtful about the extent to which their statements may motivate others to harm Black Americans.

Still, I don't think Scott Adams should be canceled. And here's why:

Scott Adams
Scott Adams, cartoonist and author and creator of "Dilbert", poses for a portrait in his home office on Monday, January 6, 2014 in Pleasanton, Calif. Adams has published a new memoir "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life". Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty

Throughout the monologue that led to the racist comments, Adams noted his own history of activism for the Black American community and his eagerness to see progress in struggling corners of our community. And I for one would rather Scott Adams atone for the recklessness of his statements by recommitting to those noble goals, using his skills at satirical creative arts to explore race and racism, maybe in the office setting (maybe a genuinely woke Dilbert, in keeping with the original meaning of the word). Perhaps Adams could even leverage his business connections to mentor Black American cartoonists who may not otherwise make inroads into the industry.

Accountability for race-based harms is critical. Scott Adams has a responsibility to pursue learning about race and anti-Black American racism. But diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism has lost the plot if cancelation is the go-to option.

Implementing antiracism is about calling people in to a more balanced way of being, not just calling others out. It can both be the case that what Adams said is racist and be the case that he deserves the opportunity to change his mind—yes, including in the public sphere.

I hope none of us are considered irredeemable if diligent attempts at sorting race from racism fall short. Ironically, the fear of cancelation stunts growth when the costs of mucking it up far outweigh the perceived benefits of trying.

We can all do better. And quite simply, we must.

Pamela Denise Long is CEO of Youthcentrix® Therapy Services, a business focused on helping organizations implement trauma-informed practices and diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism (DEIA) at the systems level. Connect with Ms. Long online at or @PDeniseLong on social media.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.